The One Sure Foundation for Democracy

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Stanton Coit
Dr Stanton Coit (1857 – 1944)
George Peabody Gooch
Dr George Peabody Gooch M.P. (1873 – 1968). Image by Walter Stoneman, 1930. Copyright: the National Portrait Gallery
Conway Memorial Lecture
Conway Memorial Lecture
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Delivered at Conway Hall 26 May 1937. Chaired by Dr G P Gooch and presented by Dr. Stanton Coit.
Abstract

The one sure foundation for democracy is the nurturing, in all members of society, of their innate capacity to perceive good and evil as objective moral values, and then to freely choose the good, as distinct from equally freely choosing evil. The choice must be free, since otherwise it will merely be in obedience to established moral authority and tradition, and therefore not a genuine expression of individual autonomy and integrity. This view is in accordance with the teachings of Christ in the New Testament.

Only by the universal development and exercise of the moral capacity can the problems thus far experienced in so-called democracies be overcome. Democratic systems may possess all the formal machinery of democracy-universal suffrage, a free press, freedom of speech and assembly-and yet still be dominated by self-interested groups who use this machinery to dupe the majority of the population into thinking they are giving their free consent to a power-structure which actually exploits them. Such mental conditioning is even more extensive and corrupt under totalitarian systems, which do not even pretend to be democratic.

Members of a democracy need education in the knowledge of good and evil in order to avoid being dominated and exploited by the cunning and the guileful.

Finally, the possibility of this education already exists, in British society at least. We have the requisite minimum of leisure, formal schooling, affluence and security of life. Hence 2 hours per day during the working week, and four hours on Sunday mornings, could be given to moral observation, discussion and activity. A generation spent in this practice could intellectually and morally transform the whole nation, so enabling them to establish and preserve true democracy.

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